Survey on Grades Show 47% Prefer Current SystemBy David D. Hsu
Associate News Editor
A slight majority of students surveyed by the Committee on Academic Performance last October preferred some change in the present grading system.
No decision has been made yet, but the CAP will decide in March whether to write an official proposal, said Professor Nigel H. M. Wilson PhD '70, chair of the CAP.
The proposal would be made to the Faculty Policy Committee, then the full faculty, he said. Wilson is hoping for a resolution by the end of the spring term.
Currently, 80 percent of students receive As and Bs, Wilson said. "The spread of individual performance in the A and B range can be very large. The existing grading system has lost a lot of resolution," he said.
About 650 students - 14.5 percent of the undergraduates population - answered the survey. The survey offered four choices in grading, and 47 percent of the students surveyed favored the present system.
The survey was issued because the CAP was "anxious to find out about how students felt about the issue now before we would launch an initiative before the faculty," Wilson said. In addition, the last survey concerning the grading system was issued in the mid 1970s.
Most favor 5-point scale
Twenty-nine percent of students wanted a grading system with pluses and minuses. Each plus would be 0.3 grade points higher than the letter grade; each minus would be 0.3 less.
Of this group, 17 percent chose a plus and minus system without A+ and D-, while 12 percent selected a similar system with A+ and D-. The grades would be worth the same as an A and a D, but the extra plus and minus would indicate exceptionally good or bad performances on the transcript.
Also, 24 percent of students favored intermediate grades of AB, BC, and CD between existing letter grades. The intermediate grades would be worth 4.5 for an AB, 3.5 for a BC, and 2.5 for a CD.
In addition, 65 percent of the respondents opposed changing from a 5-point to a 4-point grading scale.
Because of the low overall response rate to the survey, the CAP is "concerned about making too many deductions," Wilson said.
The CAP is still looking for more student response. "We've set up an electronic mail address [firstname.lastname@example.org], and we encourage students to send in views," Wilson said. The CAP has received about 100 e-mail responses already, he said.
Students concerned about stress
Many students are worried about the increased pressure that may result from intermediate grades.
"The new system would make grade cutoffs much harder for students and would increase pressure even higher," said Oleg E. Drozhinin '97. "If 80 percent of students get As and Bs, is that necessarily bad? MIT's grading is already harder than most Ivy Leagues."
"I think it would be more detrimental by inducing cheating," said another student.
Some also believe that a greater differentiation within grade ranges is not needed.
"There's so much grade inflation, I don't think it will make any difference. If they're worried about too many people getting A's and B's, they should give more people Cs," a student said.
Still, some students agreed with Wilson that the range of students within the A and B range is too great.
"There's a huge B center with people who almost get A's and C's," said Christine A. Ho '96. "The stress here is so self-imposed, I don't think it matters anyway. I think people would be happy getting any A's."
The CAP realizes student concern about increased stress and will think very seriously about the issue, Wilson said.